Steve Sugarman’s Boalt Hall Dining Guide

Steve Sugarman’s Boalt Hall Dining Guide – Alphabetical List

Steve Sugarman’s Boalt Hall Dining Guide – Good Choices & Options By Neighborhood

Spring 2017

If you go by SF Chronicle’s chief restaurant critic, the best East Bay dining is in something of a rut.  This year, 12 East Bay places count among his 100 bay area best, and 10 are carry-overs.   Three are the very good and atypical Japanese places:  Ippuku, Isayare, and Ramen Shop (the latter, by the way, offers delicious non-Japanese morning pastry and coffee on the weekend).  There is Chez Panisse, of course, and still most deserving. 

Beyond that, I have some qualms.  There are Bauer’s two informal Mexican favorites – Comal (which I find has terrible service and below-average food) and Nido (lots of fun, yes, but a top 100 restaurant, no).  Commis, our only East Bay place with a Michelin star perhaps deserves its ranking, and it worth going to once for the experience, but the price they charge is rising and in the end it is lot to do about not all that much.  Two other regular Bauer favorites are Camino and Pizziola (paired with Boot and Shoe).  They have lots of fans.  I find Camino inconsistent without much buzz, and Pizziola pleasing but ordinary (I prefer its sister place Penrose, for example).  Bauer continues to be impressed by the Chez Panisse ancestry of these two places.  A16 has both SF and Oakland locations and I happily report that they arranged a terrific private dinner for me for about 20 in their back room in the past year.  I like the buzz at dinner and the pizza and starters appeal.  But Bauer’s touting of the wine list troubles me as they have more than once been out of something simple that I have tried to order.

To these 10 have been added Vik’s Chaat an admittedly very good, extremely informal, huge space offering Indian street food; and Tastee Steam Kitchen, a new type of Chinese place where your food is more or less cooked at your table by your waiter, with the drippings helping to create a final course.  I guess it is good to recognize these inexpensive places offering unusual ethnic food.

So, what did he leave out?  I am still a big fan of Wood Tavern, A Cote, Oliveto, all near me in Oakland.  As noted above, I like Penrose. I am also a fan of A La Mar, although I have not been there since they switched to pared-down service.  I continue to like Bocanova at Jack London when you can sit outside in warm weather, and I still enjoy the Townhouse in Emeryville.  We’ve been holding off going to Wolf until they have more time to settle (Bauer went early and was not pleased).  Most disappointing to me is that Bauer leaves off Belotti, a rather new and really terrific Italian place on College Avenue (which I reluctantly mention because it is already so hard to get a table there). 

Michael Bauer is the SF Chronicle chief restaurant critic, and every year he lists his top 100 bay area restaurants. It seems pretty clear that he regularly winds up with (or shoots for) 9 in the East Bay. Below you can read comments of mine about his choices for 2012 and 2013. Here are some comments on his current favorites (viewed on April 30, 2015).

I am pleased that 5 of his 9 are in Oakland (and only 4 in Berkeley) which broadly reflects the reality that Oakland is where the excitement is right now (even if I don’t agree with all of his specific choices).

I note that 3 plus of his choices are Japanese places all of which I like a lot – Iyasare (where O Chame used to be), Ippuku (downdown Berkeley) and Ramen Shop (College Avenue Oakland). Plus Hopscotch (Uptown Oakland) has Japanese touches. I think it notable (and I applaud this) that none of these are sushi places (even though we love sushi). There are many other good Japanese places to eat in the east bay that can be found in my Boalt Hall Dining Guide. I guess I’d happily include Iyasare and Ippuku among my east bay favorites.

Two of his top nine are casual Mexican places – Comal and Nido. I like the ambience of Comal (downtown Berkeley) in the back and their drinks, but I’d not put it in my top 9 east bay places. Nido (Oakland vaguely near Laney College) is great fun for lunch with good food, but again I’d not put it in my top 9.

The importance of being formerly a Chez Panisse person has run through Bauer’s lists for years and, hey, surely Chez Panisse remains one of our very very best (though I’ve virtually only eaten at the upstairs Café for many years now). So, for example, Bauer continues to laud Pizziaolo (Oakland Temescal) (which I like for breakfast although the service is slow and coffee and toast costs $10) and Camino (Oakland Grand Avenue) (which remains physically uncomfortable and up and down to my taste). That’s it for him (noting that Doppo and Rivoli are now off his current list).

For myself, if not in the mood for Japanese food, and putting Chez Panisse aside, I have recently had meals at the following places that I’d put well ahead of those of his I’ve named above: Wood Tavern (College Avenue Oakland – our local favorite, but noisy and hard to get a table); Oliveto (College Avenue Oakland — great food and now you can talk and hear easily with their new sound system); A Cote (College Avenue Oakland, charming, lovely tapas-like choices, amazingly unusual wines); Townhouse (Emeryville, very good vibe and good food); Ala Mar (Oakland Uptown shellfish heaven); and Duende (Oakland Uptown Spanish delights to share).

    In May 2013 Michael Bauer, the SF Chronicle restaurant reviewer, released his newest list of top 100 restaurants in the bay area and once more nine (so far as I can tell) are in the East Bay.  See below for my comments on his 2012 list in which I complained about his ignoring prime Oakland dining areas.  I am pleased to see that this year he added one from uptown Oakland (Hopscotch, a newcomer that we have enjoyed a couple of times) and one from College Avenue (Ramen Shop, which we have yet to try because of the long lines and inability to reserve a table).  He also added Comal, a new Mexican place in Berkeley which is very attractive and has OK food (I much prefer Tamarindo in Old Oakland). I was disappointed, however, that he did not add Duende to his list, a terrific new Spanish place in Uptown Oakland.  

These three newcomers plus his other choices suggest that, Chez Panisse and Camino aside (of course), eating in the East Bay is mainly a matter of casual, not very expensive, dining (i.e., Dopo, Pizzaiolo, O Chame, and Ippuku plus the new three — Hopscotch, Ramen Shop, and Comal).  And maybe this is a nice view of things over here.  

Nonetheless, that means ignoring again more ambitious places like BayWolf, Commis, Haven, Oliveto, and Plum, to say nothing of Rivoli which Bauer dropped from his top 100 (OK by me) and Lalime’s (which many North Berkeley folks dearly love).   

I am especially pleased to see both O Chame and Ippuku still on his list, great Japanese places that are very different from the usual sushi type restaurants we have (not that a good sushi place like Ichiro should be ignored, and don’t forget Ozumo with its wide range of Japanese offerings in a very attractive setting).   

And while I love Dopo for lunch and Pizzaiolo for breakfast, I am still not won over by Bauer’s taste in more casual eating.  For me, if you are going for dinner, Wood Tavern, A Cote, Flora, and Townhouse are all much better than many of his nine on a variety of grounds.  Indeed, I could probably eat at Wood Tavern all of the time and be very happy.  

The one change that Bauer made that puzzles me is dropping Corso from his list (a sister restaurant of Rivoli that I really enjoy).   

Bauer also dropped Adesso (a sister of Dopo). Adesso has been fooling around with its food offerings and in an important sense is really a bar. But it has one huge advantage: it serves its good eats (especially its salumi) until very late (unlike virtually all of the rest of Oakland’s restaurant options).  

Besides Hopscotch, we are getting several other new places in uptown/downtown Oakland and besides the Ramen Shop we are getting several other new places on College Avenue. So keep tuned.   

As with last year, when you add Bauer’s list to mine from last year (which you will see below also includes Barlata, Bellanico, Bocanova, Fuse Box, Hawker Fare, Mua and Sidebar) you see what a feast of good dining we have over here.  And for a much fuller list of east bay places, many of which are really very very good, check out the full Steve Sugarman’s Boalt Hall Dining Guide by clicking on the link(s) above.

      In April 2012, San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer released his annual list of the top 100 restaurants in the bay area. He included the following nine East Bay eateries:  


Adesso  Dopo                               
Camino Ippuku
Chez Panisse            O Chame
Corso  Pizzaiolo

These are all appealing options, six of which I like a great deal. Yet, are these really the nine most enjoyable East Bay places to eat? Only three of them are on my current list of nine “good choices” in the Boalt Hall Dining Guide.

So, please consider this alternative (alphabetical) list of nine options (none of which overlap with Bauer’s)?                     

A Cote              Flora
Bocanova            Haven
Bay Wolf Oliveto 
Commis  Townhouse                 
  Wood Tavern

Or this list of yet nine others?


Barlata Ichiro          
Bellanico Mua
Fuse Box Ozumo
Hawker Fare      Plum                  

 One could go on and make yet another strong list, I am sure. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about Bauer’s list is that five of his nine are in Berkeley, whereas none of my eighteen is. Also I picked two on College Avenue and several in uptown and downtown Oakland, and he has none from those places. The bottom line: this exercise makes vivid to me why we so rarely go to SF to eat anymore.

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